In 1883 what was thought to be a decorative crystal gem was cataloged and placed in the mineralogical collection of the Natural History Museum in London.
Found in central India, the agate, as it was called, was almost perfectly spherical in shape, about 6 inches in diameter, and light pink in color.
Though the stone is beautiful, “no other meaning has been ascribed to it,” according to a March 29 press release from the Natural History Museum.
That was until Robin Hansen went to a mineral show.
Hansen, one of the curators of the mineralogical collection, traveled to France shortly after the museum’s 2018 exhibition of the agate.
“While looking around the show, a vendor showed me an agate dinosaur egg that was spherical in shape, had a thin shell and a dark agate in the center,” Hansen said in the press release. “That was the aha moment when I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this looks very similar to what we just had on display at the museum!'”
Hansen decided to talk to some dinosaur experts.
She spoke to paleontologists and they agreed that the agate was the right size and shape to perhaps be an egg, and the stone showed signs of having once been pressed against other spherical rocks, just like a clutch said release with eggs in a nest.
After closer examination, the researchers found that the agate was covered by a thin white layer, probably an eggshell.
“It was correctly identified and cataloged as an agate in 1883 based on the scientific evidence available at the time,” Hansen said in the press release. “It is only now that we have realized that there is something very special about this specimen – the agate has filled in this spherical structure, which turns out to be a dinosaur egg.”
The discovery of the egg
The egg was first collected between 1817 and 1843 by a man named Charles Fraser, who was living in India at the time, according to the publication.
That means the egg was collected “at least 80 years before the first scientific recognition of dinosaur eggs,” according to the museum.
The existence of dinosaur eggshells was not confirmed until 1923, according to the museum, when an entire nest was found in Mongolia.
It may even have been collected before the word “dinosaur” existed, since the word was not defined until 1842, according to the museum.
The timing of the egg’s discovery means it may be the first dinosaur egg ever found – and they didn’t even know it.
Based on the age of the egg and where it was found, paleontologists believe it belonged to a titanosaur, the largest dinosaur on Earth, the publication says.
Life as a Titanosaur
Titanosaurs lived from 163.5 million years ago to about 66 million years ago, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and could grow up to 85 feet tall, making them the largest land animal ever known.
Compared to their size as adults, their eggs were surprisingly small, as evidenced by the centimeter-long agate from India.
“It seems really odd because these would have been huge animals,” paleontologist Paul Barrett said in the publication, “but what they did instead was lay a lot of eggs. Many living animals that we know take advantage of this compromise, investing in either a small number of larger eggs or a larger number of smaller eggs.”
“It looks like titanosaurs adopted a strategy of laying large clutches of around 30 or 40 smaller eggs,” he said.
Paleontologists also believe that dinosaurs regularly returned to volcanic regions to lay their eggs because it was warm there, the publication says.
“This would also help explain how the egg agate formed,” the museum said. “It’s possible that shortly after a titanosaur laid its eggs in the warm sand, a nearby volcano erupted.”
The volcanic rock would have covered a dinosaur nest and then solidified, leaving the egg receptacle in the rock, according to the press release. The embryo would have rotted and the water, full of silica, would have filled the space and eventually solidified into the beautiful pink rock you see today.
Sixty million years later it was unearthed in India and brought to London.
The egg and other specimens are on display at the Natural History Museum in London as part of the Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur exhibition.
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